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Law firms' commitment to pro bono dips

Law firms' commitment to pro bono dips

By Karin Derkley

Access to Justice 

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Many law firms are falling well short of meeting the target for pro bono legal services they have signed up to, according to the Australian Pro Bono Centre's 11th annual performance report.

The National Pro Bono Target is a voluntary target for legal practices, solicitors and barristers to provide free or reduced cost legal services to not-for-profit organisations or individuals who are otherwise not eligible for or who cannot afford legal assistance, or whose matters raise an issue of public interest.

The report showed that the total number of pro bono hours provided by Australian lawyers who have signed up to the target has dropped by 1.3 per cent since last year.

The average number of pro bono hours per lawyer has also dropped from 35.7 hours in 2017 to just below the target level of 35 hours this year.

Australian Pro Bono Centre CEO John Corker said the reasons for the overall lower performance were complex.

"Looking at the results from the last few years, we seem to have reached a plateau. Increasing competition in the legal services market may be exerting a downward trend on available resources, but pro bono performance is about commitment."

Individually there are now more signatories to the Australian Pro Bono Target this year, with 256 more lawyers having signed up to the target to provide a total of 414,843 hours of pro bono legal services in the 2018 financial year.

But while some large law firms well exceeded the target, and four provided an average of more than 50 hours per lawyer, 21 of the 37 participating firms reported fewer than 35 hours per lawyer per year.

"We urge firms that are persistently falling well short of the Target to review their programs against the Centre's Best Practice Guide. And, of course, we are always happy to work with firms towards achieving improvements", Mr Corker said.

"Today, more than ever, it is vital that lawyers take a leading role in standing up for the rule of law, challenging injustice and helping the most disadvantaged individuals through pro bono legal service".


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